Coronavirus cases exceed SARS in mainland China

The coronavirus death toll in China has risen to 132 while nearly 6,000 people are infected, making it more widespread on the mainland than the notable SARS outbreak.

In the last 24 hours, 26 people have died and the numbers of confirmed cases has soared to 5,974, an increase of 1,459 from Tuesday.

The latest figures mean the new virus, dubbed Wuhan Virus, has now infected more people than SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which infected 5,327 people and killed 349 between November 2002 and July 2003.

Passengers take measures to protect themselves in Tokyo
Image: Passengers take measures to protect themselves in Tokyo

Face masks are becoming a more common sight at Heathrow airport
Image: Face masks are becoming a more common sight at Heathrow airport

All but one of the newly recorded deaths were in Hubei province, where the virus originated in its biggest city, Wuhan.

Wuhan is the epicentre of the virus and was placed under lockdown by the Chinese government last week, prompting other countries including Britain and the US to start evacuating their nationals from the city.

Governments around the world are advising people not to travel to China as uncertainty remains over how dangerous the new virus is and how easily it spreads between humans.

It is from the same family as the common cold as well as SARS.

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There have been confirmed cases in countries across Asia, North America and Europe, although there have been no fatalities outside China.

Despite spreading, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not classified the virus as a global emergency.

There are confirmed cases of the virus in Macau
Image: There are confirmed cases of the virus in Macau

There have not been any fatalities outside China so far
Image: There have not been any fatalities outside China so far

On Tuesday, UK health officials said 97 people tested for the virus were all negative, but England’s director for health protection later warned it may still be present in the country.

People who have recently returned from Wuhan recently have been urged to “self-isolate” for two weeks.

Some nations are taking more drastic action than others to try to to avoid any major outbreaks, with the Philippines issuing a temporary blanket ban on tourist visas for Chinese nationals.

Hong Kong will cut all rail links to mainland China and halve the number of flights, South Korea will send a plane for its citizens and many other governments have also planned evacuations.

Australia is among them, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said those who are flown out of Hubei province will be quarantined on Christmas Island.

British officials believe up to 200 citizens currently in Wuhan will want to return to the UK, and the Foreign Office is advising people in other parts of China to “make decisions based on their own personal circumstances”.

The first new hospital will provide around 1,000 bed when it opens
Image: The first new hospital will provide around 1,000 bed when it opens

New hospitals are being built in Wuhan
Image: New hospitals are being built in Wuhan

Wuhan is one of 17 cities in Hubei province that China has cut off access to, trapping more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed.

Wuhan is building two hospitals in a matter of days to add 2,500 beds for treatment of patients with the virus, with authorities having warned that the virus is getting stronger and that they are unclear on its potential to mutate.

China responded similarly to the SARS outbreak, which eventually killed nearly 800 people around the world.

Australia has been welcoming people back from Wuhan
Image: Australia has been welcoming people back from Wuhan

Governments are working to evacuate their nationals from Wuhan
Image: Governments are working to evacuate their nationals from Wuhan

While anxiety continues to grow in tandem with the number of confirmed cases, there is already hope among some scientists that there could be a vaccine in the offing.

Researchers from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne have said they have grown a version of the virus that could be used to develop a vaccine.

It was grown from a patient sample received last week and will be used to generate an antibody test, which allows detection of the virus in patients who have not yet displayed any symptoms.

Dr Julian Druce said: “The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the WHO in Europe.”

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